HarvestPort, the San Francisco-based ag equipment lender and marketplace platform, is expanding into Iowa with the hiring of FarmElement founder Tyler Horbach as grower solutions manager in Des Moines. 

Horbach graduated from Iowa State University in 2014 and went to work in financial services for a few years before founding the FarmElement in 2017, based in Jefferson, which was also a platform designed to connect farmers and asset suppliers in rural locations. 

“I think we were philosophically aligned in how we see working with boots-on-the-ground, locally partnering with regional folks. The timing worked out really, really well,” HarvestPort founder and CEO Brian P. Dawson said. “It’s always better to find a highly competent, best-in-class operator locally than try to come in and recreate it. That’s why working with Tyler was just an ideal situation.” 

HarvestPort started in 2015 as a peer-to-peer asset sharing platform between farmers, similar to  “Airbnb for tractors,” Dawson said. 

“Our goal is to marry the convenience of doing business online with the value that local retailers bring,” Horbach said. 

“Unlike a lot of other early stage, venture-backed ag tech platforms, we actually chose to focus for a variety of reasons on California and on specialty crops,” Dawson said. “We’ve been operating in California for four years, and we’ve had an eye to expand for quite some time specifically into corn and beans.” 

California’s longer growing season and more than 200 varieties of specialty crops made it simpler for an asset-sharing startup to grow in the state: “We could take all these assets, share them and get three to four uses a year out of many, many assets,” Dawson said.  

That unit is still active in California, but HarvestPort soon realized larger farmers had a different set of needs. 

Those growers – 5,000 to 10,000 acres – needed instead a rental service that could be depended on to immediately fix equipment when something broke down during use. Bringing equipment suppliers into HarvestPort’s equation made the most sense to address that, Dawson said. HarvestPort started making connections with dealers in transportation, machinery and irrigation. 

“‘You need an e-commerce strategy, and we will do that for you.’ So they embraced us as their e-commerce partner,” Dawson recalled. “Maybe the way to think about it is we’re a marriage counselor between these two folks that traditionally end up in an adversarial relationship.”

Now when farmers open up HarvestPort’s platform, they can choose to seek the lowest-price equipment share option, or they can choose a premium package with one of HarvestPort’s partners to ensure they have a maintenance package. 

HarvestPort is also launching the Innovation Hub, a new service sharing stories about up-and-coming agtech companies that farmers may not have otherwise learned about, Horbach said. 

“Farmers don’t really have a great place to go to learn about the crop of the crop agtech companies that have come out,” Horbach said. 

HarvestPort is paid a per-acre fee by the farmer. 

“It keeps us honest. I think this is where some transparency issues can come up with other folks that are working with a retailer, where if you start taking money from the supply side … then you’re positioned to try to move more products,” Dawson said. “We work for the farmer, they pay us, it’s a very clear relationship and there’s nothing muddled.”